By Larry Levine –
Numbers. Graphs. Charts.
11 died. 96 test positive. 662 confirmed cases.
People are dying. People are in critical condition. The disease is spreading rapidly and the numbers are growing exponentially.
People who don’t believe it. People who think it’s some exageration or a partisan political hoax. People who defy orders to stay home, who crowd onto beaches, who refuse to respect the recommended sepereation from others.
Because it’s all an abstraction.
No one in their family is sick. Yet.
Everyone from work is staying home and none of them are sick. Yet.
No one in our apartment building or on our residential block is sick. Yet.
So, it isn’t real.
The President is talking about lifting the restrictions soon.
So, it can’t be that serious.
The media could help fix this. If in addition to the charts and graphs and numbers we now see in the newspaper and on television, we would see photos of those who have died and read a bit about them – name, age, mother, brother, community, ZIP code – then the abstract would become unavoidably real.
Until it’s the woman across the street who is in the hospital, or the guy down the block who has died, it’s an abstraction. Until this evil, relentless enemy is found in our neighborhood, our ZIP code, we can make believe it isn’t real, it isn’t here.
Those of us of a certain age remember the body bags and coffins being unloaded from planes that brought the dead home from Vietnam during that war. Those images that we saw on television every night and on the front pages of our newspaper gave that faraway war an immediacy, an undeniable reality. And the newspapers and TV stations ran the names of the war dead. And we could see the names of the communities from which they went to their deaths. It so effectively helped turn public opinion against the war that in subsequent wars the government had the bodies delivered to military basis and in the name of some proclaimed “respect for the privacy of the families” the government prohibited such pictures.
The corollary that is needed now to turn the abstraction of the coronavirus to the reality that would command public respect would be a daily roster of the reality. Run the photos of the dead, not in the obituary sections of the newspapers, but in the front sections and on the nightly TV news. Give us their names. Tell us whose parents and grandparents they were, whose spouses they were. Whose brothers and sisters they were. Where they lived. Where they worked. Where they graduated high school.
In other words, strip away the abstractions and give a face to this enemy. Then maybe public respect for the size of this battle will take on a new reality. And then, maybe, when the President defies the realities and the advice of the scientific and medical communities to tease at letting down our guard in less than three weeks while the abstract numbers are still climbing, the public outcry would drown him out.